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As we move to the end of Lent and to our Triduum celebrations, we had our final gathering yesterday in connection with the Lent Retreat in Daily Living at the law school. As I’ve observed before, our retreat this year offered participants a shortened version of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

During this past week, participants prayed with the Beatitudes. After participants shared a bit of their prayer experience in small groups, we had a general discussion of the Beatitudes and the ways in which they challenge us.

After our discussion, I spoke very briefly about the prayer material I distributed to the participants, which includes praying with Jesus’ passion in the days between now and Saturday (Week 3 of the Exercises), praying with the “Tomb Day” experience, and praying with the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus (Week 4 of the Exercises).

Week 4 of the Exercises often gets short shrift. So I encouraged the participants to spend time in the days following Easter praying with the events recorded in the final chapters of the Gospels. The grace of Week 4 – a joy rooted in Jesus’ joy – is one we desperately need.

You can listen to the talk I gave at our gathering here or stream it from the icon below. The podcast runs for 16:21. You can access the prayer material for this week here.


Note: because of time, my reflection of today was fairly truncated. If you want something more extensive, you can scroll through the podcasts page, where you will find individual podcasts of Week 3 and Week 4 of the Exercises.

Week 3 of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius ask us to be with Jesus in his passion; it is a call to compassion with Jesus’ suffering. We follow Jesus all the way to his cross and his death, willingly sharing, in the words of one author, “his choices, his anguish, his truth, his desires, his aloneness, his sense of the absence of God.”

Ignatius encourages those doing the Exercises to use their imaginations when they contemplate the events of Jesus’ life. Here are some questions suggested by William Barry S.J., in Seek My Face for this means of praying with the Gospels:

Would Jesus want me to stay with him as he prays on the mountainside? Does he want a shoulder to cry on as he weeps over Jerusalem? Does he need to pour out his feelings, too? What can I do for Jesus in his shame? Does he want me to stay with him in the garden of Gethsemane? One person spent the whole of an eight-day retreat staying with Jesus as he endured his Passion, even helping him at one point to get up and go on. Can I wipe his face or give him a cup of water? Does he suffer still as he lives with people who are tortured for their beliefs? Would he like to talk about his feelings with me? How does he feel about my presence with him in this kind of contemplation? These are only a few of the questions that might arise in us once we allow ourselves to read the Gospels imaginatively with the desire to know Jesus better, to love him more deeply, and to follow him more closely.

You might find this a fruitful way of praying during final days of Lent.

I will be driving back to the Twin Cities this morning full of gratitude for the graces God blessed us with during the women’s retreat I gave this past weekend at the Jesuit Retreat House in OshKosh.

One of the things I shared with the women over the weekend (during the reflection I offered on St. Ignatius’ Principle and Foundation) was a poem written by Teresa of Avila, one of the great mystics of the Christian faith. I thought Teresa’s words might be good ones for us to reflect on as we move through this Holy Week toward the Holy Thursday and Good Friday. They invite us to consider what is our response to the overwhelming love of God, a love made manifest in the events we will celebrate later this week.

I am Yours and born for you,
What do You want of me?

Majestic Sovereign, Unending wisdom,
Kindness pleasing to my soul;
God sublime, one Being Good,
Behold this one so vile.
Singing of her love to you:
What do You want of me?

Yours, you made me,
Yours, you saved me,
Yours, you endured me,
Yours, you called me,
Yours, you awaited me,
Yours, I did not stray.
What do you want of me?

Good Lord, what do you want of me?
What is this wretch to do?
What work is this,
This sinful slave to do?
Look at me, Sweet Love,
Sweet Love, look at me,
What do you want of me?

In your hand I place my heart,
Body, life and soul,
Deep feelings and affections mine,
Spouse – Redeemer sweet,
Myself offered now to you,
What do you want of me?

Give me death, give me life,
Health or sickness, Honor or shame,
War or swelling peace,
Weakness or full strength,
Yes, to these I say,
What do you want of me?

Give me wealth or want,
Delight or distress,
Happiness or gloominess,
Heaven or hell,
Sweet life, sun unveiled,
To you I give all.
What do you want of me?

Give me, if You will, prayer;
Or let me know dryness,
An abundance of devotion,
Or if not, then barrenness.
In you alone, Sovereign Majesty,
I find my peace,
What do you want of me?

Give me then wisdom.
Or for love, ignorance,
Years of abundance,
Or hunger and famine.
Darkness or sunlight,
Move me here or there:
What do you want of me?

If You want me to rest,
I desire it for love;
If to labor, I will die working:
Sweet Love say
Where, how and when.
What do You want of me?

Calvary or Tabor give me,
Desert or fruitful land;
As Job in suffering
Or John at Your breast;
Barren or fruited vine,
Whatever be Your will:
What do you want of me?

Be I Joseph chained
Or as Egypt’s governor,
Davie pained or exalted high,
Jonas drowned, or Jonas freed:
What do you want of me?

Silent or speaking,
Fruitbearing or barren,
My wounds shown by the Law,
Rejoicing in the tender Gospel;
Sorrowing or exulting.
You alone live in me:
What do you want of me?

Yours I am, for You I was born:
What do You want of me.

Hosanna

Today, as I and the retreatants with whom I have spend these last few days prepare to bring our retreat experience to a close, we celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The crowds praise him and lay palms at his feet, still thinking he has come to establish a kingdom here on earth. These same crowds will soon be crying, “Crucify Him!”

Today, however (with apologies to those of you who are not fans of Jesus Christ Superstar), they sing out their Hosannas:

Blessings on this Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion!

As many of you konw, there was a time during the years I practiced Buddhism that I was ordained a Tibetan Buddhist nun. I took the vows of a nun thinking it would be an aid to my practice. (There is in the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism – at least as I encountered it – a bias toward the monastic life for those who are serious Buddhist practitioners.)

I remained a nun for little more than a year. What I discovered was that I was spending so much energy trying to be a good nun – working to keep purely the various vows I took – that I felt my being a nun was actually hindering my practice rather than helping it.

I thought of that experience when I came across something Frederick Buechner wrote:

We try so hard as Christians. We think such long thoughts, manipulate such long words, and both listen to and preach such long sermons. Each one of us somewhere, somehow, has known, if only for a moment or so, something of what it is to feel the shattering love of God, and once that has happened, we can never rest easy again for trying somehow to set that love forth not only in words, myriads of words, but in our lives themselves.

We try so hard to be good Christians, just as I tried so hard to be a Buddhist nun.

Yet all we really need to do is to let ourselves “feel the shattering love of God.” From my own experience, I know that Buechner is absolutely right. Experiencing that love changes everything, doing something to us that long thoughts, long words and long sermons never can and never will. The thoughts, the words, the ideas, may open us to experience that love, but themselves are not substitute.

It is the love that changes everything.

Diane Roth, who is an associate pastor of one of the Lutheran churches in the Twin Cities (Woodlake Lutheran), wrote a blog post recently that began with the confession that although she loves both poetry and prayer, she doesn’t feel that she is particularly good at either one. Nonetheless, emulating some of her favorite poets, many of whose poems really are prayers (Mary Oliver and Denise Levertov are the examples she gave), she said she had been writing occasional “haiku prayers” over the last year or so. This activity prompted her to reflect on what poetry and prayer might have in common.

She suggested three ways the two are similar. The first is that both “have a necessary honesty.” A good poem, Roth suggested, “is, above all, honest. It doesn’t pull punches. It tells the truth. In fact, poetry is one way of getting deeper into truth, an expression of joy or lament or love that strips off artifice and reveals the depths of pain and hope.”

Prayer, of course, is the same. When I read her post, I was reminded of something John Powell, S.J., wrote:

Speaking to God honestly is the beginning of prayer; it locates a person before God… In speaking to God we must reveal our true and naked selves. We must tell him the truth of ourselves. We must tell him the truth of our thoughts, desires and feelings, whatever they may be. They may not be what I would like them to be, but they are not right or wrong, true or false. They are me.

Second, Roth suggested that prayer and poetry are both elliptical, by which she means that both “leave some things unsaid.” She elaborates,

Poems make you read between the lines. They do not say everything. Prayers do too, but in a different way, and perhaps for other reasons. Prayers a elliptical, because it is impossible to say all that is on our hearts. The apostle Paul has it right, “We do not know how to pray as we ought,” and so prayers will always leave some things unsaid. And yet, not saying everything, a poem or a prayer somehow becomes more than the sum of its parts.

Each of her first two points is true and important in its own right. But perhaps the most important commonality she reminds us of is that “you don’t have to be good at it.”

I recalled when I read her post a conversation I had with my then spiritual director many years ago. I was having trouble expressing a deep feeling and I bemoaned, that if I were a poet I could express the depth of what I was a feeling in a poem. “What stops you from doing it?” Of course it was my feeling that it wouldn’t be good enough. Good enough for what, he chided me. Just do it, he encouraged me. And so I did. It wasn’t a great work of art. No one other than me and God ever read it. But that was just fine; the poem served its purpose.

Likewise with prayer. Directees or retreatants or others I counsel sometimes worry about whether they are praying “right.” There is no right; there is just you and God in honest encounter.

I was reminded when I read Roth’s post of Mary Oliver’s poem Praying, which I leave you with:

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

This morning we had a little good-bye party in the law school Atrium for Pete, the primary law school security guard, who is retiring after having served in the University for 30 years, the last 10 of which have been spent at the law school. Every day since I started teaching here, no matter how early I arrive (and I tend to arrive early) Pete has been there at his station.

Rob Vischer, our dean, offered some brief comments after we gave Pete some gifts and before we dove into the cake. Rob observed that while all schools have security stations that are exactly that – a station that provides some security for the community – the security station manned by Pete served more like a front porch. A place to come sit (or at least stand) a while. Pete always took time to greet students and took a keen interest in how they were doing. Pete was, Rob suggested, as much teacher as security guard in the caring he modeled for students, faculty and staff alike. He shared an e-mail from an alum who had graduated almost a decade ago (an alum, Rob joked, who hadn’t even written when Rob became dean, but who wrote as soon as word of Pete’s impending retirement spread), talking about how much Pete’s presence added to his law school experience.

As I listened to Rob, I thought of all the Pete’s in various organizations, the people who are part of the glue that holds entities together. People who are not high enough on the chain of command, or “important” enough by hierarchical standards to be recognized for the work they are doing – until they are ready to retire. At that point, as we become conscious of their impending absence, we acknowledge directly, perhaps for the first time, how much they mean to us, the hole their departure will leave.

Why wait until those people are ready to retire to recognize them and express gratitude for who they are and all they contribute?

Who are the Pete’s in your school, your workplace, your church, or the other organizations of which you are a part? Have you thanked them lately? Or done anything to let them know you see them and appreciate them?

Note: I will take off immediately after teaching my two classes this morning to drive to the Jesuit Retreat House in OshKosh, where I will be presenting an weekend Ignatian preached retreat. I ask you to keep me and the retreatants in your prayers.

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